Same-sex marriage is now legal in a majority of states. After the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the appeals of several judicial decisions, 32 states now allow same-sex couples to marry, representing over 60% of the country’s population.. Several more states merely require state-level cases to validate federal circuit-court rulings. The inevitability of this social shift seems confirmed, but resistance to same-sex marriage is especially strong in the Southern and Midwestern states. In fact, broad swaths of the Midwest and the South were affected by the Court’s decisions, with many more states still embroiled in legal disputes over the future of marriage rights within their borders. Despite its landmark (in) decision, the Supreme Court is still looked to by both sides to resolve the issue of constitutionality? Yet some advocates, in the wake of this most recent development, now fear that a Supreme Court ruling has the potential to do far more practical harm than good if the court rules against same-sex marriage or ambivalently. Likewise, the position of many opposing groups have flipped; those who have been decrying “judicial activism” and “overruling the people” now turn to the Court to undo what they see as damage done by lower courts. Either way, it is likely that this country will have a decisive ruling on the matter within a year. But until that moment, we are going to see conflict, particularly in those states where judicial decisions are being sought or appealed over the issue.

Much like past battles over discrimination policies, ethnic voting rights, and women’s suffrage, the current patchwork of states that allow, deny, or are sorting through their stance on same sex marriage almost demands resolution by the federal courts. Take Arkansas, for instance. The Natural State holds many of the same bogus interpretations of “natural law” as others in the Bible Belt. Arkansas proudly boasted 75% popular support for 2004 amendment to the state constitution limiting recognition of marriage to those between a male and a female. In arguments before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza in 2014, the state argued that the amendment and an accompanying law were vital to protecting children, tradition, and procreation. Thinly veiled religious arguments were insufficient in the eyes of the court, and Piazza ruled against the ban and the amendment:

A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith. Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution (Piazza, 2014).

The next few days were filled with stories of hundreds of same-sex couples receiving marriage license. The last few months have seen an eventual stay on the marriages until the Arkansas Supreme Court rules on the issue, their public endorsement/denial by elected officials and county clerks, and outpourings of support and vitriol from opposing sides. Piazza may have made himself the most hated person in the state for upholding constitutional law over the ever-so- scared “will of the people,” at least among those who can’t seem to quite grasp the notion of judicial review.

If I seem touchy on this subject, it’s because I am deeply ashamed of how many of my fellow Arkansans seem ignorant of or willing to ignore the provisions of the Constitution in order to preserve a system of discrimination. Like the cry of “States’ Rights!” heard in national debates, “The Will of the People” is little more than code for local majority tyranny, and has been the half-legitimate argument against every advancement in civil rights since the 1950s. But I digress.

Aside from its Supreme Court case, Arkansas also has a case set to go before a federal judge on this issue. Both cases, however, are overshadowed in most people’s mind by the inevitable decision form the US Supreme Court. It is tempting for advocates and opponents alike to let the state and federal cases rest until the constitutionality of the issue is decided. However, abandoning the fight for equality grants a de-facto victory to the proponents of discrimination. As we await a Supreme Court ruling, there are millions of citizens in this country whose rights are either protected or stripped away based on which side of state border they stand on. Every day this remains the case is day we the people shame the legacy of freedom and equality left to us by preceding generations.

A local conservative editorialist masquerading as a libertarian once penned a column on what comes after marriage equality. He seemed to be of the opinion that the evil homosexual agenda would never rest until honest, God-and-Gays-fearing ministers were arrested for preaching on the subject. I would like to note that the local fight over hiring/firing LGTBQ people based on their sexuality or gender identity is only just beginning, and it hardly seems the stuff of conservative nightmares. Well, unless those nightmares consist of a world in which businesses can’t hire, fire, or mistreat employees because of who they are. The recent ordinance in Fayetteville extends existing employment, housing, and accommodation protections to LGTBQ citizens. Churches are exempt from many of the provisions, so the dreaded “gaystapo” (not my word) will not be busting down church doors demanding to use opposite-sex restrooms.

We live in a deeply divided nations, and an even more deeply divided state. On the one hand we have a tiny minority and those who believe they are citizens with the rights of citizens. On the other hand we have those who have lived and worked beside this minority for the entire history of this country without suffering any harm at their hands whatsoever, and yet believe that acknowledging their rights would spell disaster for the family, children, and general morality. While we await what I sincerely hope will be a Supreme Court ruling in favor of those rights, we must not forget that this is not over. We should fight beside our fellow citizens for their rights the day before the Supreme Court rules and the day after. We must carry this fight on until everyone enjoys equal liberty under the law.


The Statistics Aren’t Enough

In the past few weeks Janay Rice has been infamously known for suffering abuse at the hands of her fiancée, NFL quarterback, Ray Rice. Janay Rice’s intimate life and privacy were targeted and violated as she experienced weeks of vulnerability, pain, and distress. Stories such as these are stories about failure—failures in decency, jurisprudence, compassion, empathy, ethics, and judgment.

Rice was initially suspended for two games. Now that the second video has been leaked, Ray Rice has been released from the Baltimore Ravens and has been suspended from the NFL indefinitely. However, law enforcement has failed to intervene and provide Rice with the punishment that he deserved for knocking out Janay and dragging her body like a rag doll.

It will not be long until there will be another professional athlete, or actor, or singer who commits an act of domestic violence, and the same conversations will arise. The victim will be interrogated for her choices. The perpetrator’s behavior will be rationalized. People will stare at the images of a woman’s bruised or limp body that the media releases. And then we will proceed on to the next story. It is a distasteful cycle and it is time to break away.

Domestic violence is such a problem that there are “fact sheets” effortlessly summarizing the extent of the problem. These statistics have been amassed to illustrate the reality of domestic violence. These statistics have been compiled as if quantifying the problem might make a difference. So far, it has not. We know the statistics, but they bear repeating. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey estimates that there are 42,420,000 victims of such violence in the United States. One in four women and 1 in 7 men suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner. 9.4 percent of high school students experience violence from an intimate partner in 2010.

There are always more statistics. There are always more ways we can quantify suffering, but we seemingly have no idea what to do with this information. To this day, most domestic violence goes unreported. Statistics are not enough. Statistics don’t make victims of domestic violence feel safe enough to share their stories or get the help they need. We have given them no reason to feel safe. Domestic violence shelters across the country struggle to serve the victims in need because there are so many, and these shelters are working with so little. Law enforcement seems ill equipped when providing the necessary safety and support a woman needs to level charges against her abuser. Prosecuting these crimes and negotiating the justice system introduces further complications, if the crimes are prosecuted at all.

And, of course, we have rather grand and indulgent ideas about what women in abusive relationships should do. We have opinions about what we would do in her situation, as if our opinions or beliefs have any resemblance to the actual experience. She should leave him, we say. She should press charges. She should get a restraining order. She should go to a shelter. And when a woman doesn’t make the choices we approve of, she, rather than her abuser, is left with the responsibility and cause for her suffering. So very little empathy or kindness for women in abusive relationships is provided. People do not want to hear real stories about what it’s like endure such relationships. People do not want to hear how love and fear and pride and shame shape the decisions made in abusive relationships. People do not want to hear the truth because it is too complicated. Abused women are left with nowhere to go. They are forced into silence and invisibility.
In a perfect world, yes, a woman should leave an abusive relationship. She should have the emotional, physical, and financial means to do so. She should be supported by law enforcement and the justice system. She should receive counseling and emotional support. She should be given safe passage to a new life. However, we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world where Janay Palmer was not believed to be abused until there was hard evidence—the appalling video of her being knocked out with a single blow by an NFL athlete. Even with such brutal evidence, Ray Rice still has his defenders, and he will likely get third and fourth and fifth chances.


Steven, Ebola, and Texas. Thoughts of a Mystic Man.

Today is one of those days where I feel like talking for a little while about several things, rather than talking for great long while on one thing.

So, let’s start off where we left off, or rather, with what we left off. You see, the topic of last week’s blog, Zaire ebolavirus, has managed to find its way into a new country. Specifically, Texas. Yes, the good ol’ Lone Star Republic is the proud home of yet one more thing the rest of the country doesn’t have (or want). If I seem to be striking a lighthearted tone, you’re on to something. I’m sure that by the time this post goes up, the Internets will be ablaze with more formless conjecture, ill-informed terror, and honestly stupid solutions than you could pan out of a Texas Board of Education meeting (Ok, I’ll stop messing with Texas; next week I’m coming after Iowa).

And this is scary, if only really terrifying for a very sick man and the family he came to visit. But, as I said last week, this disease has been a daily horror for thousands of people long before it passed through our golden doors. And, in typical American fashion, we have pretty much ignored it. The one exception to that noble redirection of attention came, of course, when we brought our own infected doctors home for treatment, which elicited thoughtful suggestions that they be returned immediately to Sierra Leone. So if I appear to be treating the suffering and likely death of a fellow human being as something of little consequence, something to be made light of, I would counter that we as a nation have treated the largest and deadliest outbreak of one of the deadliest diseases on the planet pretty darn lightly until now. And I would further argue that we have done this because we are, or we have been, above all, safe. We have considered ourselves, our concerns I can trust in the medical officials in charge of this case to keep me and the rest of this country safe from the spread of this virus.

And maybe I do take a little perverse pleasure in the fact that this disease has arrived within the borders of a state that is exceptionally proud of its supposed independence from the rest of the country. Coming from a state that used to make similar “all-we-need-we have” noises, I understand the desire to brag about what we don’t need to take rather than examine what we can give. Of course the US, and to a lesser extent Texas, doesn’t need other nations or states to care for this man. We are pretty much safe; I can afford to make light. But there are about 22 million people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone -and now a dozen or so more in Dallas- who cannot.

Speaking of Texas, I’d like to take a moment to discuss some ball. Last week’s Texas A&M/Hogs game had the predictable outcome, but a much more complex road to Aggie victory than most foresaw. The Hog’s were actually winning for a shining moment; hell, we were 14 up at the end of the third! That is, until the fresh Aggie defence came in during the fourth quarter with a near-perfect counter to our running game. Now I am no expert, but I know people who are, and they and my eyeballs were in agreement over the pitiful shortfalls of said running game. Needing to make significant yardage in each play, with little or no effective alternatives, the Hogs were finally stopped by a defense that simply refused to allow them to run down the freakin’ middle. Again. If that’s all in takes to shut down our offense late-game, maybe we should encourage the good coach Beiliemia to reconsider his focus on a power running team. This is the SEC; we know how to break short runs.

My secondary point is that this is yet another opportunity to reexamine our priorities when comes to finances and football. Yes, the Hogs are getting better. Yes, the program brings in millions to UA every year. Yes, the athletes work long and hard for their scholarships. And, still yes, the name of the game is Higher Education. The Hogs brought nearly 100 million big ones home in 2013, shattering budget expectations. They took out 92 million in expenses, but that still left a heathy 8 million lying about. That’s enough to double the current scholarships provided by the program. Can we, perhaps, consider reinvesting it in direct financial support for the 20,000+ non-athletes at the U of A? You know, the ones who are there for pure academic attainment. Or even as scholarships for the sports teams who had average GPA’s higher than 3.0. All fourteen of them. All I’m trying to say is that that the football team casts a long shadow for a struggling program. Maybe we should think about moving the rank-and-file, or their co-athletes, out from under it.

And, finally, lets talk about the truth, boys and girls. We are getting philosophic today, because I need more space filled. If you ask the average person (laypeople, priests, your state Representative, members of ISIS), what the truth is, they are likely to point to a set of old writings or an objective, concrete fact. Now, here’s your weekly food for thought:
A woman and a man go into a river. The water is deep and wide, but they find a comfortable place to stand and feel it rushing by them. The man takes a spoon, dips it into the water, and lifts it up again crying “See! I have found the river!” He goes back to village to educate his brothers on the particular properties of his spoonful of water, and to analyze it down to the molecular level. The woman stays in the stream, taking the realities of each spoonful as they come, and letting each slip back through her fingers. What is the truth?

Well, see you folks next week.